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Source: Division for Palestinian Rights (DPR)
28 February 2003




Division for Palestinian Rights

Chronological Review of Events Relating to the
Question of Palestine

MONTHLY MEDIA MONITORING REVIEW

February 2003


1

Following the weekly cabinet meeting in Ramallah under Chairman Arafat, the PA issued an official statement saying it was ready to sign a comprehensive ceasefire deal with Israel for all the Palestinian territories. The PA also said that the Palestinians were ready to resume peace negotiations with Israel as soon as possible. “The Palestinian leadership and the Palestinian people still believe that just, comprehensive and everlasting peace remains the only choice for both the Israelis and the Palestinians to accomplish,” said chief Palestinian negotiator and PA Minister Saeb Erakat. (DPA)

The IDF demolished a house in the village of Madma, south of Nablus, belonging to Amed Muhammad Ahmed Ziada, a Fatah member who had carried out the suicide attack in Herzliya on 11 June 2002, killing an Israeli woman and wounding 14 other Israelis. The IDF statement said the demolition sent “a message to suicide bombers and their terrorist accomplices that their actions have a price, which will be paid by all those who take part in terrorist activities,” and vowed to continue to use every “legal means” against terrorists and their accomplices. (www.idf.il)

2

The IDF demolished 22 Palestinian buildings in Hebron, including stables and farm shacks, leaving dozens homeless. The families said they had received demolition notices months ago but had not known when the work would begin. The buildings were destroyed because they had been built without permits, said Talia Somech, a spokeswoman for the IDF’s Civil Administration. Some had already been completed and others were still under construction, Palestinians in the area said, certain that the demolitions were carried out because the army wanted to create a buffer zone between Hebron and nearby Israeli settlements. Eighteen of the demolished buildings were in the Jabal Juhar neighborhood in the south-eastern part of the city belonging to IDF-controlled H-2 area, near the road intersection where three IDF soldiers had been killed in a Hamas shooting the previous week. The other four buildings were in “Lot 26,” near the “Givat Harsina” settlement, in an area that was part of the master plan of the “Kiryat Arba” settlement and where the settlers intended to build a neighborhood expanding the “Givat Harsina” settlement, east of the road bypassing Hebron. The settler outpost, where a settler had been killed three weeks earlier by Hamas, was clearly visible from the demolition site and still inhabited. The PA said in a statement that the demolitions were a clear violation of every agreement regarding Hebron and constituted a war crime. (AP, Arutz 7, DPA, Ha’aretz)

Palestinian detainees rioted at the “Ketziot” detention centre in the Negev desert, known by Palestinians as “Ansar-2” or the “ Naqib” prison, and soldiers used tear gas and stun grenades to subdue them. At least 20, and according to some reports as many as 70, Palestinians and four guards suffered from smoke inhalation, from the stun grenades or from the burning tents, and there were reports of injuries from the rubber-coated metal bullets. A Palestinian prisoner said by cellular telephone from the jail that the incident began after guards cut off electricity and water supplies to the prisoners. There had been reports of overcrowding at the facility, holding more than 1,000 Palestinians in makeshift tents. The IDF had announced on 31 January its plans to double the size of the facility to cope with thousands of Palestinians detained during sweeps of villages and refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Issa Al-Qaraqa, head of the Bethlehem-based Palestinian Prisoners Club, later said the riots had broken out because the detainees were unhappy with their poor living conditions and treatment. “When the wardens refused to listen to them, they started shouting, so the wardens fired tear gas at them,” he told AFP , noting that scores of the prisoners had been treated for gas inhalation and that, after calm was restored, the prison authorities and the detainees had started talks to ease tensions there. (AFP, AP, Gush Shalom, Ha’aretz, IBA, the Jerusalem Post)

3

Machine-gun fire from IDF tanks killed two Palestinian farmers, aged 60 and 35, and wounded three others, as they were working their fields in the Gaza Strip south of the “Kissufim” crossing, near the border with Israel. An Israeli military source said the two were in a restricted area, about 60m from the fence, where militants had planted explosives in the past, and that one of the men carried a shovel. (AFP, DPA, Reuters)

Three IDF bulldozers backed by four armoured vehicles had entered several metres into a zone under Palestinian control in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip near the border with Egypt, and demolished three Palestinian houses, Palestinian security sources said. (AFP)

The IDF lifted the curfew in most of Hebron after a four-day lockdown during a new operation in the city, with the exception of the Old City. The army, however, did not remove cement blocks preventing the free movement of cars in the centre of the city. (AFP)

Thorbjørn Jagland, Chairman of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Enlarged Foreign Affairs Committee of the Norwegian Parliament (Storting) and a former member of the Mitchell Committee, said NATO should send troops to the Middle East to act as a barrier between Israel and a newly-created Palestinian State to prevent attacks from either side. “There is a need for a real, strong military force. NATO should consider the possibility of shouldering such a mission,” Mr. Jagland told NRK public radio. “The fact that the Palestinians have been stripped of their freedom and of their own State is the main reason for the acts of terrorism we are witnessing around the world… That is why we need to build a comprehensive policy for the entire region,” Mr. Jagland noted, adding that he feared a war in Iraq would further ignite the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (AFP, Aftenposten)

The number of Israeli settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip had risen by 6 per cent in 2002, according to Israeli Interior Ministry data published in the Ma’ariv daily, bringing the total to 226,028. The number of residents in Israeli settlement enclaves in Hebron had risen by 50, to 531. The Ministry explained, however, that the real number could be significantly lower due to those who might have left the settlements without changing their address. More than 150 settlers had been killed in attacks since the intifada broke out in September 2000, and various studies showed that many settlers were indeed moving out of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. However, the lack of a government mechanism to compensate those who wanted to leave made it very difficult for settlers whose property had often been drastically devalued since the start of the intifada. According to Peace Now, the Government of Prime Minister Sharon had focused its efforts on developing the settlements by investing almost US$500 million in them in 2001. (AFP, DPA)

The IDF had killed 46 Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territory in January 2003, compared to 45 killed in December 2002. Among the dead were 17 non-combatants, including four children under the age of ten, an adult over the age of 50 and a mentally retarded person. Two of the civilian dead were bystanders killed during a failed assassination attempt in Gaza. The remaining 29 dead were members of armed wings of Palestinian organizations. Five of the combatant deaths had occurred during attacks on Israeli targets both in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and within the Green Line. Ten had been killed during operations conducted by IDF special forces and 14 in gun battles with the IDF. (Ha’aretz)

In the US foreign aid budget proposed to Congress by President Bush, there was a provision for US$75 million in assistance to the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the same as for the previous fiscal year. (AFP)

Israel transferred NIS280 million (about US$58 million) in withheld funds to the PA, Ha’aretz reported. Some NIS180 million came from tax payments collected by Israel in December 2002, while the remainder was part of the estimated NIS2 billion collected in previous months and withheld by Israel. According to Ha’aretz, t he PA would receive NIS100 million per month from the frozen funds. (DPA, Ha’aretz)

The Gaza Military Court at the “Erez” checkpoint sentenced to 27 years in prison a Palestinian who it found had been trained by Al-Qaeda to set up sleeper cells for attacks on Israelis. Military Prosecutor Capt. Ronen Shor told reporters that Nabil Okal, 29, never joined Al-Qaeda, but trained with the group with the intent of bombing Israeli targets. After the training in Afghanistan, Mr. Okal, in 2000, “ came back to form and set up a military force to make military actions against Israeli targets here in the Gaza Strip and also here in Israel,” Mr. Shor said. The prosecution claimed that Mr. Okal was a member of Hamas, though Palestinian security officials said he had no known militant affiliations. A military prosecutor said two other Palestinians had been arrested for complicity in the case. One man had been jailed for 10 years and the other was awaiting trial. Israeli authorities did not disclose if Mr. Okal’s alleged recruitment efforts had been successful, nor did they say whether he or anyone affiliated with him had carried out anti-Israeli attacks before his arrest in June 2000. “I’m innocent!” Mr. Okal told reporters outside the court. (Ha’aretz, Reuters)

4

Israeli troops arrested seven Palestinians in overnight raids in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Among those arrested was Islamic Jihad member Badr Hemuni, seized in Hebron. The IDF reimposed its curfew on Hebron, lifted the day before. Armoured vehicles that had pulled back from the centre of the city were again in place, Palestinian officials said. An army spokesman said the curfew had been lifted for the day in the reoccupied West Bank towns of Bethlehem, Jenin, Qalqilya, Ramallah and Nablus. (AFP)

The IDF overnight blew up a house at Beit Furik, south of Nablus. It was the family home of Saad Tawfik Hassan Hanani, an Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades militant, who had killed an Israeli woman and seriously wounded her husband in an attack on 10 August 2002. Palestinian security officials said the two-storey building was home to 14 people. (AFP)

Ha’aretz reported that, according to Israeli intelligence officials, the PA was, for the first time in many months, taking steps against “terrorist groups,” including trying to stop Hamas firing homemade rockets into Israel from the Gaza Strip. Quoting its sources, Ha’aretz said that in the past two weeks a Palestinian Qassam rocket cell had been arrested in the Gaza Strip and the activity of several other cells had been “disrupted,” through the deployment of PA police in areas from where the rockets used to be fired. “There have also been reports of a number of occasions when Palestinian security officials helped reveal hidden bombs,” the daily said, explaining the Palestinian attitude by reference to fears that increasing Israeli military raids into the Gaza Strip aimed at rocket and mortar production facilities in the middle of Palestinian towns and cities would “eventually smash what remains of the PA’s Government in the Gaza Strip, and further damage the status of the Palestinian security apparatus in the Strip.” (AFP, Ha’aretz)

Ha’aretz reported that an alternative separation fence route map, presented by some leaders of the Yesha Council of settlements to Major-General Moshe Kaplinski, GOC Central Command, and Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz, would leave dozens of settlements on the west side of the fence and would annex 110,000 Palestinians, in contrast to the few thousands already living on the western side of the separation fence route approved by the Israeli Government. Settler leaders said this was not a political line but a security line subject to future changes. Some of them objected to the building of the fence proposed by the Government to run roughly along the Green Line, as it might turn into a political border in the future. The various proposals were to be discussed in the next few weeks. (Ha’aretz)

A Tel Aviv court ruled in favour of the Israeli bus company Egged, which said Palestinian attacks on its vehicles had caused massive revenue loss and a 15-20 per cent drop in passengers. The court ordered the PA to pay US$10 million in compensation plus US$20,000 in costs. Egged alleged in its suit that the PA had failed to rein in militants who carried out the attacks and in some cases provided them with financing, an accusation denied by Palestinian officials. At the request of the company, the court ordered the damages to be paid out of Palestinian funds frozen by Israel since the start of the intifada. The Courts Administration office said that the Tel Aviv court had granted Egged the damages after the PA had failed to mount a defence. Proceedings were to continue against the PA, which had asked that the suit against it be dismissed. PA Minister and chief negotiator Saeb Erakat called the court ruling “ very dangerous” and said the PA’s legal department would be formulating a response. “No Israeli court has the right to examine such matters, they have no legal jurisdiction over the PA,” he said, noting that this was “a purely political decision, the Israeli Government wants to waste Palestinian money they are holding.” (AFP, Reuters)

An Israeli settler was hit in the chest, as he was going to work in the greenhouses of the “Kfar Darom” settlement, near the Palestinian refugee camp of Deir al-Balah, in the Gaza Strip. Moderately wounded, he was taken to hospital in Beersheba, in southern Israel, as the IDF combed the area of the shooting for the two men thought to be responsible. Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack. (AFP)

5

A 65-year-old hearing-impaired woman was crushed to death when Israeli troops demolished the home of her militant stepson in the Gaza Strip’s Al-Maghazi refugee camp. Her body was found in the rubble after the house had been dynamited by an Israeli force of about one dozen tanks, APCs, jeeps and bulldozers, which had entered the camp in the pre-dawn hours. Palestinian officials said the woman had apparently not heard warnings to leave the building. The stepson had been killed in a gunfight with Israeli troops, after he had shot dead two Israeli settlers in November 2002. Also in the Gaza Strip, witnesses and medical officials said 13 Palestinians had been wounded by Israeli tank fire on the Khan Yunis refugee camp. IDF sources said nearby settlements had come under fire but had no information on Israeli tank fire. In the West Bank, troops killed two Palestinians in separate incidents. Witnesses said a Palestinian policeman had been shot as he and others fled their base in Qalqilya during an IDF raid. Israeli military sources said he had ignored orders to halt. Another Palestinian had been slightly wounded. In Nablus, a Palestinian youth had been shot dead by troops during a stone-throwing clash, witnesses said. An Israeli military source said the youth had been armed and had shot at troops in the area. (AFP, DPA, Ha’aretz, the Jerusalem Post, Reuters)

Two Palestinians were killed when an Israeli helicopter opened fire on the Al-Wafa hospital for the elderly, east of Gaza City. Mo’aweya Hassanein, chief of emergency at Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, said the two killed were Abdel Karim Lubad, 21, and Omer Hassan, 21, both Al-Wafa nurses on a night shift. Two other Palestinians were wounded and were hospitalized in intensive care. The IDF said the hospital was not a deliberate target and helicopter fire was intended to deter militants in the area who often launched rockets across the border. Dozens of doctors, nurses and ambulance drivers dressed in their white uniforms led a procession of more than 1,000 mourners at the funeral of the two. (AP, DPA, Reuters)

The Israeli High Court of Justice ruled to annul an article in a special military warrant, which allowed the IDF to detain Palestinians in the West Bank for 12 days without allowing the detainees to see a judge and without allowing them to plead their case for the first four days of the arrest. Three justices ruled that the article was unlawful, but decided that it should remain in place for the next six months in order to enable the IDF to adapt to Israeli and international law. The justices rejected the rest of the petition, filed by human rights groups, to cancel the authority granted to an officer with the rank of captain or higher or any police officer with the rank of chief inspector or higher to carry out mass arrests in the West Bank. The panel also rejected a petition by the groups to enable detainees to meet with an attorney during the first two days of their arrest. (Ha’aretz)

Three Palestinians holding a “singing protest” were wounded by rubber bullets in Ramallah, Palestinian medical and security sources said. The incident took place in the central Manara Square area, as a group of around 100 Palestinians gathered to hold a peaceful protest by singing anti-war songs, security sources said. As they gathered in the square, a unit of Israeli soldiers surrounded a nearby building to carry out an arrest but several Palestinians began throwing stones. The soldiers responded by firing rubber bullets and tear-gas canisters, lightly wounding three of the demonstrators, who were taken to hospital. (AFP)

Senior Palestinian negotiator and PA Minister Saeb Erakat said Israeli authorities had prevented 1,000 Palestinians related to suspected militants from leaving for the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca. Mr. Erakat told AFP that 600 Palestinians had been barred from leaving via the Israeli-controlled border with Jordan and another 400 had been stopped by the authorities in Rafah, on the border with Egypt. “The Palestinian Authority condemns this measure against religious freedom,” he said. (AFP)

6

Two Palestinian gunmen unsuccessfully tried to infiltrate an IDF outpost on the southern outskirts of Nablus, and then fired at it from the outside, killing an Israeli officer and a soldier, before being killed themselves in the ensuing firefight. The Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades and the PFLP claimed joint responsibility for the attack. (AFP, AP, BBC, DPA, Reuters)

An unarmed Palestinian was shot dead by Israeli forces on a road near Tulkarm. Israeli military sources said an army patrol had ordered the man to stop but he had refused and tried to run away. Palestinian security officials identified him as Abdel Baqi Msalem, 25, who had been working illegally in Israel and was crossing back into the West Bank when he was spotted and killed. (AFP, DPA)

Secretary of State Powell told the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations that President Bush intended to “take a more active role in finding a way forward with the Middle East peace process.” The Road Map drawn up by the Quartet would be published “at a time in the very near future to be determined by the President,” Mr. Powell said. Regarding PA reform, he noted that it “has not been adequate, we have seen some bright spots in the Finance Ministry but we need to see a lot more.” (AFP)

EU External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten welcomed an investigation by the EU’s Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) into the use by the PA of EU-donated funds. After receiving information in recent months “from a number of different sources,” OLAF had on 5 February announced the launching of an investigation “in relation to allegations of misuse of funds donated by the European Union in the context of EU budgetary support to the Palestinian Authority.” Separately, on 4 February, 170 members of the European Parliament had asked the Parliament to launch its own inquiry into how EU funds were being used by the PA. Mr. Patten said in a statement that there was nothing to hide. He argued that the Commission had “fully investigated repeated allegations that some of these budgetary payments may have been misused” but “no evidence to that effect has yet come to light.” He said he was “conscious of the difficulty of overseeing the final use of such payments in a region in crisis” but noted that such payments were subject to “rigorous controls, including an International Monetary Fund (IMF) monitoring system.” He added that the EU money was going into the same PA Treasury account that Israel was now using for the resumed tax transfers. (AFP, AP, DPA)

The IDF said they had arrested 24 Palestinians across the West Bank. Two of the detainees, who had been stopped in a taxi at an impromptu checkpoint on the road between Nablus and Tulkarm, had during interrogations told Shin Bet about the hiding place of an explosive belt in a mosque in the Arab-Israeli town of Tayiba, for a would-be suicide mission. (AFP, DPA, Ha’aretz, the Jerusalem Post)

7

Israeli Channel One public TV station reported of secret talks between Prime Minister Sharon and senior Palestinian officials Mahmud Abbas (Abu Mazen) and Ahmed Qurei (Abu Ala) on a ceasefire. Mr. Sharon had met Mr. Abbas before the Israeli elections on 28 January, and Mr. Qurei after the elections, in the first high-level talks in nearly a year. Channel Two private TV station said Mr. Sharon had met Mr. Qurei on 5 February at his ranch in the southern Negev desert. It said Prime Minister’s Bureau Chief and Policy Coordinator Dov Weisglass and US ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer had also attended those talks. Channel One added that Mr. Weisglass had also held talks with PA Interior Minister Hani Al-Hassan, on 5 February, and cited sources close to the Government as saying more such meetings were expected in the near future. Mr. Weisglass, speaking on Israeli Public Radio, confirmed the reports, saying “There have in fact been meetings with senior Palestinian officials both before and after the elections aimed at convincing the Palestinians to halt the violence.” Chairman Arafat, commenting on the talks, told Channel One: “We are bearing a sacred thing, and it is up to us to cooperate with everyone in order to reach a solution, a justified solution based on the principles of peace, based on agreements and UN decisions.” Chief Palestinian negotiator and PA Minister Saeb Erakat said these secret talks “cannot be called negotiations” and should not be viewed as an alternative to the Road Map. Mr. Erakat, speaking by telephone to AFP , also confirmed that the US had officially informed the PA that the announcement of the Quartet’s Road Map would be postponed until after the formation of the new Israeli Government, and expressed his concern that the new delay would “create a political void which [would] add to the complications created by the Israeli measures and blockade” in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. (AFP, Reuters)

The Governing Council of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), meeting in Nairobi, unanimously endorsed a report entitled “Study on the Environment of the Occupied Palestinian Territories ” and called for immediate action on its recommendations. The report was compiled at the request of the Organization’s Post Conflict Assessment Unit. It was conducted over the last five months and detailed environmental problems in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, such as rising water pollution, loss of natural vegetation and the indiscriminate dumping of waste. Some problems, such as the clearing of forested land and asbestos contamination caused by the destruction of buildings, were due to the ongoing conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians, the report said. PA Environment Minister Yousef Abu Safieh, among the more than 100 environment ministers attending UNEP’s biannual meeting, said the Palestinians believed it was “a very good report.” The Israelis, however, expressed concern that the report attributed much of the environmental degradation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to security measures taken by the IDF, without adequately explaining the reason for those measures. (Ha’aretz, www.unep.org)

8

Two Palestinian stone-throwers, aged 14 and 20, were wounded by Israeli gunfire after they threw stones at an army patrol in the centre of Tulkarm, which was under curfew. Later in the day, two other Palestinians throwing stones, aged 20 and 22, were shot in the legs by Israeli troops. The 22-year-old was seriously wounded and died from his wounds two days later. (AFP, DPA)

In Nablus, Palestinian residents said that the IDF had destroyed two houses belonging to the families of Palestinians who had been shot dead after killing two Israeli soldiers on 6 February. (DPA)

Two Palestinians – a 35-year-old teacher who worked for UNRWA and an 18-year-old – died from the wounds they had sustained in early January 2003 during IDF incursions into the Khan Yunis refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip. (DPA, Reuters)

9

Three Palestinians sped up in their car to an IDF post at the “Gush Katif” junction, in the southern Gaza Strip, and one of the men jumped out and opened fire. The explosives-laden car then rammed into a concrete barrier and exploded, killing the attackers and wounding four Israeli soldiers. Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the attack. (AFP, Reuters)

The Palestinian Cabinet issued a statement repeating its call for militants to cease attacks against civilians in Israel and any other action “that draws Israeli crimes of revenge against Palestinian civilians.” (Reuters)

Prime Minister Sharon, officially accepting the task of forming the next Government of Israel, said the new Government would “have to complete the campaign against terror, remove the terrorist leadership and create the conditions for the emergence of a new Palestinian leadership, with which it will be possible to make real peace.” “This reflects the true intention of the current Israeli leadership of continuing the path of destruction and escalation,” said chief Palestinian negotiator and PA Minister Saeb Erakat, who also called on the Quartet to renew their efforts to get peacemaking back on track. (Reuters)

Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher met Prime Minister Sharon’s Bureau Chief Dov Weisglass and diplomatic policy adviser Shalom Turgeman in Amman. Mr. Muasher told the Petra news agency that talks were part of “Jordanian efforts to have a dialogue with the Israeli Government” and aimed at “pushing the Israeli Government to adopt the Road Map as a general framework for a just and comprehensive solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, leading to an independent Palestinian State in 2005.” The talks focused on “the adequate means capable of pushing forward the peace process,” Petra said, without giving further details. (AFP, Ha’aretz, the Jerusalem Post,(www.pmo.gov.il)

The IDF announced it had demolished a house in Sawara, north-east of Bethlehem, which belonged to the family of Ramadan Iad Mashara, a Hamas militant who had carried out a suicide attack in the Pat junction in Jerusalem on 18 June 2002, killing 19 and wounding 50. According to Reuters , the IDF also demolished a house in Abu Dis, which was the family home of two Palestinians jailed for transporting the suicide bomber to the Pat Junction. Nine people were left homeless. (www.idf.il, Reuters)

The IDF announced that its forces had apprehended three Palestinians in the West Bank who had the intention of carrying out suicide bombings: a Hamas member in Ramallah, a Tanzim member in the village of Al-Yamoun, west of Jenin, and another Palestinian in Nablus whose affiliation was not specified. The Hamas militant arrested in a Ramallah hotel was reportedly carrying a suitcase with a 20kg explosive belt hidden inside, and after his capture Israeli security forces took Jerusalem off the highest level of alert. (DPA, www.idf.il, Reuters)

The Israeli defence establishment was stepping up its campaign against the transfer of money to the PA, Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz told the weekly Cabinet meeting, calling the financial transactions “fuel for terror.” ; Mr. Mofaz also said Israel would continue applying heavy military pressure on Hebron, the northern West Bank and the northern Gaza Strip. (Ha’aretz, The Jerusalem Post)

10

IDF shot dead an armed Palestinian and captured another near the “ Netzarim” settlement in the Gaza Strip. (AFP, DPA, Reuters)

In Ein Beit Elma refugee camp, near Nablus, Imad Al-Mabruk, a member of the PFLP’s armed wing, was shot dead when trying to flee from an Israeli force that raided his home. (www.idf.il, Reuters)

The IDF lifted the curfew in all West Bank cities except Hebron. (DPA)

An UNRWA statement quoted Director-General Peter Hansen as saying that the Agency’s emergency activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory would run out of resources and come to an end by late March 2003. Donor countries had not yet transferred 94 million requested by the Agency in December 2002, as many of them were “holding back to see what is needed in Iraq.” Mr. Hansen appealed to the international community not to let the West Bank and the Gaza Strip “slip from its sight,” as “tensions are too high and the need too great.” (DPA, UNRWA Press Release No. HQ/G/01/2003)

11

Israeli tanks entered Bethlehem after an IDF officer was shot dead by a Palestinian sniper near the Church of the Nativity. The PFLP claimed responsibility for the attack. Troops imposed a curfew on Bethlehem and searched Palestinian homes for the sniper. In Qalqilya, Palestinian hospital officials said an eight-year-old boy had died after being hit in the chest by gunfire from troops under attack by stone-throwers, and another 10 Palestinians had been wounded. At least nine suspected militants were reported to have been arrested by the IDF in Jenin and Nablus. In the Gaza Strip, the IDF shot dead a Palestinian militant, as he approached a fence near the “ Kissufim” border crossing separating the central Gaza Strip from Israel. Israeli media reported that the militant had been carrying an assault rifle and hand grenades. (AFP, BBC, DPA, Financial Times, the Jerusalem Post, Reuters)

WAFA reported that the EU, Russian and UN Middle East Envoys had met with Chairman Arafat. UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East peace Process Terje Rød-Larsen said they had discussed the next Quartet meeting in London and issues of PA reform. (The Jerusalem Post)

The IDF imposed a complete closure of the West Bank and Gaza Strip for the four-day Id al-Adha feast, citing intelligence alerts about planned terrorist attacks. (AFP, DPA, the Financial Times, Reuters)

Israel’s Physicians for Human Rights petitioned the Israeli Supreme Court to order authorities to supply gas masks to all Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the event of a war in Iraq. The IDF office in charge of gas mask distribution had said it would issue 60,000 masks to Palestinians who lived in West Bank areas under full Israeli control. But Physicians for Human Rights said in a statement that Israel effectively controlled all Palestinian areas following its reoccupation in June 2002 of West Bank cities. Calling for gas masks to be distributed free of charge “to every resident of the occupied territories,” the organization said it was joined in its petition by the Palestinian Red Crescent Society. (Reuters)

12

Israeli soldiers shot dead two Palestinians armed with knives and hand grenades near the “Dugit” settlement in the northern Gaza Strip. In a separate incident, a Tanzim activist, Fatah Kamel Al-Hatib, surrendered to IDF troops in a Nablus refugee camp after they surrounded the house in which he was hiding. Troops also fired missiles at the building, wounding two people. (AFP, DPA, Ha’aretz, Reuters)

13

Israeli troops had killed three armed Palestinians and captured a fourth one in the central Gaza Strip, Israel Radio reported. Soldiers had returned fire after four gunmen attacked them near the “Netzarim” settlement, south of Gaza City, the radio said. According to an IDF spokesman, the Palestinians were trying to plant explosive devices. Earlier in the day, an Israeli army bulldozer had struck a large explosive device in the area but no one had been injured. (DPA, Ha’aretz)

In a large-scale operation in the area of Jenin, Israeli security forces arrested twenty wanted Palestinians, fifteen of them in the town of Qabatiya. Most of the men arrested were reportedly members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. In Ramallah, troops arrested a Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine activist, Mustafa Al-Badarna, suspected of recruiting people for carrying out terrorist attacks in the area. In the Bureij refugee camp, in the Gaza Strip, border policemen arrested an Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades militant allegedly involved in placing explosive devices along the security fence. (Arutz-7, Ha’aretz)

The IDF lifted the closure in Nablus, Tulkarm, Qalqilya, and Ramallah. The closure remained in place in Jenin, Bethlehem and Hebron. (Ha’aretz)

According to PA officials and diplomatic sources, Chairman Arafat had agreed to appoint a Prime Minister to run the daily affairs of Government under the draft Road Map, but with other points of the peace plan still unresolved no such appointment appeared to be imminent. The sources said Mr. Arafat, under pressure to reform the PA, had given his consent in a letter to Prime Minister Blair before the latter’s talks with President Bush in Washington in January 2003. A Western diplomat was quoted as saying that Mr. Arafat’s letter to Mr. Blair was a “significant political move” but it was “not an actual decision – the real test is conversion of words into deeds.” He added that the Quartet had welcomed Mr. Arafat’s initiative and had proposed immediate interim steps that would lead to its implementation. He did not elaborate further. (Reuters)

UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Kieran Prendergast briefed the Security Council on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question.” (UN News Centre, UN Press Release SC/7661 of 13 January 2003)

14

After meeting with the Quartet representatives – UN Special Coordinator Terje Rød-Larsen, Russian Middle East Envoy Andrei Vdovin, and an EU representative replacing envoy Miguel Moratinos – Chairman Arafat announced that he would appoint a Prime Minister. He said he would convene the Palestinian (Legislative) Council and the PLO Central Council to discuss implementation of his decision. The PA’s Basic Law made no provision for a Prime Minister and had to be amended to allow for creation of the post. Mr. Arafat made the announcement in a written statement he read to the press. Mr. Rød-Larsen said that Mr. Arafat had also “embraced” the Road Map at the meeting. (AFP, DPA,Ha’aretz, the Jerusalem Post,Reuters)

The following statement was issued by the Spokesman for United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan:

The Secretary-General welcomes the announcement by Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat that he intends to appoint a Prime Minister and also that he fully embraces the Quartet Road Map. The Secretary-General believes that these are two very important steps towards restarting the Middle East peace process. The Secretary-General looks forward to working with a credible and fully empowered Palestinian Prime Minister. He believes it is now essential for the Palestinian Legislative Council to meet as soon as possible, so that Mr. Arafat can bring his nomination forward; and he urges both parties to do everything necessary for that to happen.

The Secretary-General notes the importance of this move in advance of meetings in London next week between the parties and key members of the international community to discuss donor assistance and Palestinian reform. The Quartet Envoys will also convene during this set of meetings.


(UN Press Release SG/SM/8605 - PAL/1935 of 14 February 2003)

IDF forces shot and killed two Palestinian youths in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, Israel Radio reported. According to Palestinian sources, the two, who were aged 24 and 21, were killed when the IDF demolished a tunnel they suspected of being used to smuggle weapons across the border from Egypt. An IDF spokesman said the tunnel had been searched prior to its demolition but the IDF would investigate the incident. (Ha’aretz)

The IDF arrested five members of the DFLP in Ramallah, including three Central Committee Members, one of whom was reportedly on Israel’s wanted list. Overnight, in Tulkarm, troops arrested the Islamic Jihad commander in the area Mahmud Kneidi and his deputy Fuad Sawalha. Palestinian sources said that the two surrendered to the IDF after troops surrounded the house, in which they were staying. (AFP, DPA, Ha’aretz)

The IDF demolished 13 Palestinian houses along the border between the southern Gaza Strip and Egypt. Three teenage stone-throwers were wounded by live bullets, as bulldozers backed up by armour and infantry staged an incursion into the Rafah refugee camp to demolish the houses. Israel Radio said the houses were destroyed because there was a tunnel underneath them, which was used to smuggle weapons from Egypt. (AFP, DPA)

IDF forces blew up a house south of Qalqilya belonging to the Palestinian who had infiltrated the “Itamar” settlement on 28 May 2002 and had killed three yeshiva students there. (Arutz 7, www.idf.il)

Hamas spokesman Abdel Aziz Rantissi told reporters that his movement had decided to stop launching Al-Qassam missiles at Israel, saying he supported Chairman Arafat’s description of such attacks as damaging Palestinian interests. (DPA)

Ending the conflict between the Palestinians and Israel was “a critical component” of winning the war on terrorism, as “no other issue has so coloured the perception of the United States in the Muslim world,” according to the 30-page US “National Strategy for Combating Terrorism” presented to reporters by a White House official. “The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is critical because of the toll of human suffering, because of America’s close relationship with the State of Israel and key Arab States, and because of that region’s importance to other global priorities of the United States,” the document said, adding that “the United States can play a crucial role but, ultimately, lasting peace can only come when Israelis and Palestinians resolve the issues and end the conflict between them.” (AFP, www.whitehouse.gov)

15

Four IDF soldiers were killed when their Magach 7-Kfir tank drove over an explosive device in the northern Gaza Strip, about 1km southeast of the “Dugit” settlement and some 300m south of the perimeter fence enclosing the area under Israeli control. Hamas’s military wing, Izz ad-Din al-Qassam, claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement faxed to news agencies, saying it had been in response to the deaths of two Hamas activists killed near Beit Lahia in a clash with IDF troops earlier in the month. The blast was also claimed in a joint statement by the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades and the Al-Quds Brigades, the armed wing of the Islamic Jihad. Gen. Doron Almog, IDF commander in the Gaza Strip, said 100kg of explosives were used in the attack, while the Hamas statement put the bomb at 25kg of a new type of explosive. The incident occurred despite a new IDF procedure adopted after previous attacks and involving a massive D-7 bulldozer sent ahead of the tank to absorb a possible blast. The IDF responded to the attack by sending bulldozers to raze several Palestinian houses, claiming that they had been used as cover by those responsible for the explosion. (AP, Arutz 7, Ha’aretz)

Four Palestinians, including an 11-year-old child, were shot and wounded by Israeli troops in the southern Gaza Strip, while attempting to block demolition work conducted by IDF bulldozers in Rafah. (AFP)

16

Six Hamas activists were killed in an explosion in the Al-Zeitun neighbourhood of Gaza City. Blaming Israel, Hamas official spokesman Abdel Aziz Rantissi told reporters the group would “retaliate for their new crime, for their new terror action... It will be a very expensive price.” A Hamas statement issued later said the six were killed when a small unmanned plane they had been testing blew up, saying further that “all members should be on alert and ready for revenge against the Israeli crime.” (AFP, AP, Ha’aretz)

Three Palestinians were killed and 28 wounded, one critically, in an exchange of fire with IDF troops, as they surrounded a multi-storey building in central Nablus, and arrested Taisir Khaled, senior DFLP activist and a member of the PLO Executive Committee, as well as three other Palestinians. The IDF also stormed Jenin and its refugee camp at night, sparking clashes in which two Palestinians were wounded. (AFP, Ha’aretz)

17

IDF tanks, backed by attack helicopters, surrounded a five-story building in the Sheikh Radwan neighbourhood of Gaza City, where Hamas leader Ahmed Randour and his family lived, and blew it up. An IDF statement said Mr. Randour was responsible for the bombing of a tank two days before. Israel Radio reported that troops came under fire while demolishing the house, and returned fire. A Palestinian policeman at a security post and a suspected militant were killed, and five civilians, including a doctor, were wounded in the shooting, hospital officials said. (AFP, AP, Ha’aretz,www.idf.il, Reuters)

An IDF undercover unit hiding in a van loaded with vegetables ambushed the car of Riyad Abu Ziad on Gaza’s coastal road, near the Bureij refugee camp. Mr. Abu Ziad, believed to be one of the leaders of the Hamas military wing in the Gaza Strip and a personal assistant to Salah Shehadeh, killed by the IDF in July 2002, was seriously injured. He died from his wounds a short while later as he was being taken by helicopter to an Israeli hospital in nearby Beersheba. Another Palestinian was reportedly killed in the ambush. An IDF statement said Mr. Ziad was planning a massive terror attack inside Israel. (AP, Ha’aretz, www.idf.il)

Bethlehem mayor Hanna Nasser said Israel had given formal notice that it was seizing land near Rachel’s Tomb for the construction of a security wall. The seizure order said 14 dunams (3.5 acres) would be taken for three years, but Mayor Nasser said he believed the area cut off from the rest of Bethlehem by the security wall would cover about 4,000 dunams (1,000 acres). Israeli officials confirmed the order had been sent to residents of the area, but denied claims that several homes would be destroyed to make way for the wall. Palestinian neighbourhoods, a refugee camp and an Islamic cemetery abut the shrine. Palestinian officials said they would appeal to Israel’s Supreme Court. The order gave them 10 days to do so. (AP, see also 11 November 2002)

The European Council held an extraordinary meeting to discuss the crisis over Iraq, saying in itsconclusions: “In this regional context, the European Union reiterates its firm belief in the need to invigorate the peace process in the Middle East and to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We continue to support early implementation of the Road Map endorsed by the Quartet. Terror and violence must end. So must settlement activity. Palestinian reforms must be speeded up and, in this respect, President Arafat’s statement that he will appoint a Prime Minister is a welcome step in the right direction.” (Reuters, europa.eu.int)

Lebanese Interior Minister Elias Murr told reporters at the Marjayoun barracks in south Lebanon: “Israel is fooling itself if it thinks it can use the Iraq crisis to put into action plans to expel the Palestinians from the occupied territories to Lebanon… There are no Lebanese forces deployed on the border, but all measures have been taken to prevent Israel from executing its plans.” (AFP)

Ha’aretz reported that the IDF had started a US$10 million project to double the capacity of the “Ketziot” detention centre, where it held the majority of Palestinians detained during the intifada , to 2,400 when completed in April. Plans to erect permanent structures to replace the tent blocks had been scrapped. (AFP)

Israeli private TV reported that over the weekend Prime Minister Sharon and PA Finance Minister Salam Fayyad had held secret talks on a ceasefire and Palestinian reform efforts. Israel Radio said the meeting at Mr. Sharon’s residence in West Jerusalem was a chance for Messrs. Sharon and Fayyad to get to know each other and to facilitate discussions on a gradual Israeli-Palestinian ceasefire and a resumption of the peace process. Mr. Sharon’s Bureau Chief Dov Weisglass had also attended. “They met for two hours. It was a get-to-know-you meeting. They exchanged views on the situation and the way in which progress could be made towards a ceasefire and resuming the peace process,” a senior Israeli Government official was quoted as saying. But a senior Palestinian source said that Messrs. Sharon and Fayyad had only discussed economic matters, touching on Mr. Fayyad’s role, and there had been no mention of any possible ceasefire or ways to achieve one. (AFP, DPA, Ha’aretz, Reuters)

Top South African and former Israeli military officials had discussed Middle East peace strategies at a four-day meeting that ended on this day , South African government officials said. The meeting, held at the Spier Wine Estate near the farming town of Stellenbosch, had followed a series of meetings brokered by South Africa in 2002 between current Palestinian officials and former Israeli officials. Some of the previous meetings had not been announced because of the sensitive nature of the discussions. “South Africa is trying to participate in a permanent solution to world peace. Important people in that part of the world prevailed on us to do this,” Safety and Security Minister Charles Nqakula told reporters at a parliamentary briefing in Cape Town. South African cabinet ministers and former and serving military and intelligence officials had shared their experiences of a peaceful transition to democracy with the Israeli delegation of former military, intelligence and security officials, the Government said in a statement. The names of the Israelis were not released. The afternoon session on 16 February had been attended by South African President Thabo Mbeki. “The discussions afforded the Israeli delegation an opportunity to express their views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, ways in which a resolution might be found and how lessons from the South African negotiations process could be beneficial to the parties,” the statement said. Government spokeswoman Lorna Daniels said: “There are more processes to follow... Both delegations welcomed the opportunity to interact in a frank and constructive atmosphere and agreed to continue the dialogue to arrive at viable strategies for a peacemaking process.” There had been no Palestinian participation at the latest session, said Ms. Daniels. However, the next meeting would be held with Palestinian representatives. (AFP, AP, Mail & Guardian)

18

Israeli forces killed 27-year-old Muhammed Morr, an alleged member of Hamas’ armed wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades. An IDF spokesman said soldiers had surrounded his house and shot the man dead after he refused to give himself up, while witnesses said Mr. Morr had first been shot in the leg and then shot and killed. Hamas Political Bureau member Musa Abu Marzouk told reporters afterwards that his group would retaliate for the murder of Mr. Morr, adding that “only peace will bring about security and not the other way round.” (AFP, BBC, DPA, Reuters)

IDF tanks moved into the Rafah refugee camp in the Gaza Strip and troops demolished two buildings they said had been used to store arms and explosives, an accusation Palestinians denied. The IDF said it had found 250kg of explosives in a bomb factory hidden in one house in a raid during the previous night, as well as a mortar bomb and an explosive-packed belt of the type used in suicide attacks in the second house. Undercover Border Police troops and IDF forces arrested 15 Palestinians, four of them members of Islamic Jihad. (Ha’aretz, www.idf.il, Reuters)

IDF troops arrested three young women in the Bethlehem area – a 19-year-old in the Dheisheh refugee camp, a 20-year-old in Beit Sahur and a 16-year-old in Beit Jalla – on suspicion they were about to launch suicide attacks. In each case, the young woman’s father was also detained. (AFP)

Palestinian security officials said 10 Fatah members had been arrested in the village of Yamun, near Nablus. (AFP)

Despite an earlier announcement that the closure on the West Bank and Gaza Strip would be “extended until further notice because the number of attack threats has doubled,” the Israeli Defence Ministry decided to lift it. Some 20,000 Palestinian workers with the appropriate permits were allowed into Israel. Palestinian security sources in Gaza City said Israeli authorities had let more than 6,000 workers into Israel and had allowed more than 3,500 into the Erez industrial zone in the northern Gaza Strip, while another 200 workers had been allowed through the Sufa checkpoint area in the southern Gaza Strip to work in the agricultural zone. (AFP, Ha’aretz)

Dozens of unarmed Palestinian policemen in civilian clothes started patrolling the streets of Nablus. “The shared force was established by order of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat and Interior Minister Hani Al-Hassan,” and consisted of “various Palestinian security services,” Nablus’ national security chief Col. Saadi Naji told AFP . He said the mission of the patrols, whose members wore a red arm-band with “shared force” written on it in Arabic, was to “bar gunmen from the streets, protect civilian interests as well as resolve their disputes.” Col. Naji said the decision to establish the force and dispatch it to the streets of Nablus had been “purely Palestinian,” “without any coordination or understanding with the Israeli side.” The IDF could not immediately confirm the information. (AFP)

The Israeli High Court of Justice dismissed a petition demanding that Israel be ordered to supply gas masks to all Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the event of a war in Iraq. The IDF, in charge of gas mask distribution, had said it would issue 60,000 masks to Palestinians living in West Bank areas “C,” but Israel’s Physicians for Human Rights said that since Israel had reoccupied areas “A” and “B,” it was responsible for the safety of their Palestinian residents and was also obliged to distribute gas masks free of charge to Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip. State attorneys had claimed before the Court that the IDF was not in full control of the autonomous territories and was, therefore, not responsible for the protection of the population there, plus that there was a low probability that residents of the autonomous areas would be hit by a missile with a chemical or biological warhead and so there was no pressing need to distribute gas masks to them. Israel Radio quoted one judge as saying that funds such as collected taxes, which Israel transferred t o the PA, could have been used to buy gas masks, and “If Israel was preventing the distribution of gas masks by the Palestinian Authority, there would be a reason for the petition.” Army Radio reported that if the PA requested gas masks in a case of true need, Israel would do its best to supply them. (DPA, Ha’aretz, Reuters)

Following a meeting between Prime Minister Blair and representatives of the Quartet at Downing Street, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said that he looked “forward to the early publication of the Road Map,” adding that he thought it was meanwhile important to “make progress on the elements” of the Road Map even though they were not published in an official document.“ (AFP, Reuters)

19

Israeli forces made large-scale incursions into Gaza City and Nablus that left 13 Palestinians dead, 11 of them in Gaza. The Gaza raid, which lasted nearly seven hours, began around midnight, when about 40 Israeli tanks, APCs and troops, supported by helicopter gunships, entered the northern and eastern neighbourhoods of the city. Residents reported hearing explosions near several metal workshops. Palestinian medical sources said that most of those killed in Gaza were innocent civilians and discounted Israeli statements that militants had opened fire on the Israeli forces. Israeli reports said the soldiers had destroyed four buildings, in which they had found parts for the production of Qassam rockets. The IDF declined to comment on the raid, which military sources described only as “a pinpoint operation against the terror infrastructure in the Gaza Strip.” The two casualties in Nablus were a 32-year-old bakery worker and 16-year-old stone-throwing teenager, both shot by Israeli troops. The troops had been conducting house-to-house searches near the casbah, which had been placed under curfew and troops had taken up positions in several buildings including two schools. Troops also demolished the home of a Palestinian militant accused of killing two Israeli settlers who had come to shop in the village of Jamaim seven months earlier. A fourteenth Palestinian, an Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades activist, was killed in a car explosion near Jenin under unclear circumstances. In a statement, the PA condemned what it called “the programmed Israeli massacres against defenceless Palestinians” and called on the international community to hurry to protect the Palestinian people, which was “suffering from the intensified and escalated Israeli military aggression.” In an apparent retaliation for the Gaza incursion, militants fired four Qassam rockets at the Israeli town of Sderot, near the border with Gaza. A 35-year-old Israeli man was reported to have suffered serious wounds to the head and chest. (AFP, DPA, Ha’aretz, Reuters)

The following statement was issued by the Spokesman for UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan:

The Secretary-General is concerned at the latest escalation of violence in the Middle East. Since last Saturday, at least 27 Palestinians and four Israelis have been killed, with many more injured. This comes at a time when representatives of the international community are meeting in London to discuss ways to put the Israeli-Palestinian conflict back on a track of peaceful negotiations.

The Secretary-General remains convinced that there is no military solution to this conflict. Violence is not going to produce either security or lasting peace. It only feeds the terrible cycle which began in September 2000. The Secretary-General urges the parties immediately to cease all forms of violence, abide by international humanitarian law, and allow the international community to help them find a peaceful way out of this conflict.


(UN Press Release SG/SM/8610 of 19 February 2003)

US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the US remained “very concerned about civilian casualties ... from the ongoing violence, especially among Palestinian children and young people.” Noting that “these casualties continue to result from Israeli military actions in the West Bank and Gaza,” he said the US “continued to urge the Israeli Government to take appropriate precautions to prevent the death or injury of innocent civilians and damage to civilian and humanitarian infrastructure” and called on Israel to allow Palestinians access to humanitarian personnel and supplies as “expeditiously as possible.” “At the same time, as we’ve made very, very clear before, we recognize the need for Israel to take legitimate anti-terrorist actions,” Mr. Boucher said, adding that the US was “pressing the Palestinians to do all they can to end immediately the terror and violence and work to restore active security and to dismantle the infrastructure that supports terrorists and violence.” (AFP, Reuters)

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovenko said in a statement that “the latest outbreak of violence and the loss of human life evoke profound concern in Moscow.” Noting that recent developments came amid “the apparent emergence of a prospect of normalization” in the region, he cited as positive “Palestinian measures in the area of security” and “the creation of a post of Prime Minister in the framework of inter-Palestinian reform,” along with “high-level Israeli-Palestinian contacts.” The events in Gaza were “discordant with the objectives being pursued in London,” Mr. Yakovenko said, referring to ongoing meetings, and called on the two sides “to display self-restraint and reject military scenarios.” Deputy French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said France called on Israel “to show restraint and immediately put an end to such incursions, which go beyond Israel’s security needs and can only feed the cycle of violence.” He also urged the PA to “assume its responsibilities with respect to keeping public order and put a stop to violent acts committed by armed Palestinian groups.” (AFP)

Chairman Arafat would not attend the Non-Aligned Movement Summit in Malaysia the following week because Israel and the US could not guarantee his safe return, Malaysian media reported. Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad had contacted the US Government, calling on Washington to ensure that Mr. Arafat could attend the Summit, but there had been no response, the official Bernama news agency said. (AFP)

20

The Task Force on Palestinian reform, composed of representatives of the Quartet, Norway, Japan, Canada, the World Bank and the IMF, met on 19 and 20 February in London to review the status of Palestinian civil reform efforts. The Task Force also reviewed these efforts with Israeli and Palestinian representatives. The meeting, the Task Force’s fourth, was chaired by UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Terje Rød-Larsen. Recognizing the “difficult security situation” on the ground, the Task Force “welcomed the clear and considerable progress made in several areas of Palestinian civil reform,” and in particular “commended the implementation of significantly higher standards of fiscal transparency and accountability, as well as work toward development of the public institutions and laws needed to promote a market economy.” In a statement, the Task Force also “welcomed the Palestinians’ decision to appoint a Prime Minister, and underscored the importance that this position be credible and fully empowered.” In other areas, such as judicial reform, progress had been “much slower” and appropriate early action should be taken, the Task Force noted. It “urged the Government of Israel to do all it can to facilitate the reform process and minimize the impact of security measures on the civilian population” and welcomed the “decision to resume monthly transfers of Palestinian tax revenues and to begin clearing the arrearages in accordance with an agreed monitoring mechanism to ensure transparency and financial accountability.” It also noted that it was “critical that external budgetary support be sustained.” (UN News Centre)

Following a two-day meeting of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee in London, international donors had committed around US$700 million to the PA to help meet its budget for 2003, World Bank Director for the West Bank and Gaza Strip Nigel Roberts told a press conference. The aid package would help pay the salaries of public workers, in addition to food and employment generation schemes. He added that it was “reasonable” to expect donations totalling US$1.1 billion to be dispersed to the PA by the end of the year. This latter amount had been cited by the World Bank as the total needed from donors, in the absence of measurable improvements on the ground, according to a statement issued by Norway, who chaired the meeting. According to Mr. Roberts, just over US$1 billion had been donated in 2002, some 80 per cent of it by the EU, League of Arab States and the US. “Some donors expressed concern that assistance delivered in the absence of a political framework could jeopardize the long-term goal of a viable Palestinian State by undermining existing Palestinian institutions,” a Committee statement said. (AFP)

A statement issued after a Quartet meeting at the level of envoys at Lancaster House, London, said they “expressed very serious concern at the continuing acts of violence and terror planned and directed against Israelis, and at Israeli military operations over the past several days in the West Bank and Gaza, which led to Palestinian civilian fatalities.” They “reaffirmed that the Road Map should be formally adopted and presented to the parties as soon as possible” and “reaffirmed the call … for an immediate, comprehensive ceasefire.” The Envoys “welcomed the Palestinians’ ; decision to appoint a Prime Minister as a significant step” and “ underscored the importance of appointing a credible and fully empowered Prime Minister.” “Noting Israel’s important role in facilitating the Palestinian reform process, they recognized the positive effect of the resumption of monthly revenue transfers and return of outstanding arrears,” ; and “emphasized Israel’s obligation, consistent with legitimate security concerns, to do more to ease the dire humanitarian and socio-economic situation in the West Bank and Gaza, including facilitating freedom of movement and access, alleviating the daily burdens of life under occupation, and respecting the dignity of Palestinian civilians.” (AFP, Reuters, UN News Centre)

The following statement was issued by the Spokesman for UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan:

The Secretary-General welcomes the statement of the Quartet Envoys on the Israeli-Palestinian situation issued in London earlier today. It is a matter of vital interest to peace and security in the Middle East that the Quartet maintain its efforts with the parties to achieve the two-State solution that is the cornerstone of international consensus on the comprehensive settlement of the Israeli-Arab conflict.


(UN Press Release SG/SM/8612 of 20 February 2003)

Ha’aretz reported that Israel was seeking more than 100 “corrections” to the latest version of the Road Map, including a clarification that all the initial demands would be placed on the Palestinian side, beginning with a ceasefire, a change in leadership and far-reaching reforms, only then to be followed by measures Israel must take. An Israeli document to that effect was being drafted by an interministerial team headed by Prime Minister Sharon’s Bureau Chief, attorney Dov Weisglass, and with representatives from the IDF, the Shin Bet security services and the Defence and Foreign Ministries. The final draft would be presented to the new Israeli Government before it was given to the US. The Israeli document would preserve the outline of the Road Map but erase the timetable, making progress between the stages performance-based. It was not clear if Israel would accept the deadline initially set by President Bush for a final settlement by 2005. PA Minister and chief negotiator Saeb Erakat, in London for a series of meetings, called the amendments demanded by Israel an “official rejection” of the Road Map. (DPA, Ha’aretz, Reuters)

Israeli troops effectively cut the Gaza Strip into three sectors by shutting three main junctions to Palestinian traffic and setting up roadblocks. The IDF said it was limiting Palestinian travel in the Gaza Strip as part of “the continuing fight against terror and in response to yesterday’s Qassam rocket attack” at the Israeli town of Sderot. Hundreds of Palestinians cut off from their homes or work in Gaza City had to reach their destinations by circumventing roadblocks and walking along the shore, buffeted by waves from a storm that had engulfed the region. (DPA, Reuters)

A 17-year-old Palestinian and his 55-year-old grandfather were killed when they got caught in the crossfire between IDF troops and Palestinian militants in Nablus. Palestinians reported that the IDF has arrested some 40 Palestinians over the last 24 hours in operations in the Casbah area of Nablus. In Tulkarm, Israeli soldiers shot dead a wanted Hamas militant during an exchange of gunfire. (AFP, DPA, Ha’aretz, Reuters)

The Israeli Ministry of Housing and Construction issued a tender for the building of 126 residential units in the settlement of “Givat Hazayit,” near the settlement of “Efrat,” south of Bethlehem. Peace Now activists called the move a provocation, while the Yesha Council praised the decision of Minister Natan Sharansky. “Givat Hazayit” is one of the settlements included in the “Efrat” expansion plan. (Ha’aretz)

Following talks in London, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana told reporters the EU remained committed to the Road Map, considered it important, and looked forward to its early publication. (AFP)

Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Møller said his country would give 1 million in aid to UNRWA, following the Agency’s warning that it was about to run out of funds. “The Government thinks it is very important that the international community does not, because of the Iraq crisis, lose sight of the grave humanit arian situation faced by the Palestinian population in Gaza and the West Bank, which is particularly critical among the refugees,” Mr. Møller said. (AFP)

21

Israeli troops shot dead a Palestinian who threw hand grenades at an Israeli checkpoint at the “Erez” border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Israel. Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the attack. Another Palestinian was shot dead near the “Dugit” settlement, also in the northern Gaza Strip. According to the IDF he had tried to infiltrate the settlement. In the West Bank, Israeli soldiers shot dead a Palestinian in Tulkarm. Palestinians said soldiers had opened fire without any reason but the IDF said the man had attempted to flee when asked to show identity papers. (DPA, Reuters)

In the West Bank village of Jamaeen, Israeli troops blew up the family home of a Hamas militant killed the previous year and linked to attacks, in which 13 Israelis had died, the IDF said. Witnesses said the demolition left 10 people homeless. (Reuters)

Following talks with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov in Moscow, Chairman Arafat’s PLO deputy Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) said the PA was calling for “the demilitarization of the intifada for one year and a renunciation of military actions,” so as to allow implementation of the Road Map. Further military aggression by Israel thereafter would “show everyone who is to blame for the perpetuation of the conflict,” Interfax quoted Mr. Abbas as saying. The suspension of attacks on Israeli targets would require written approval by various Palestinian factions at their forthcoming meetings, he added. According to Interfax, Mr. Ivanov warned against attempts to modify the Road Map, saying: “Any changes made by anyone would only push the settlement process back for a long time. This must be prevented.” He noted that the Road Map might not fully satisfy either Israel or the Palestinians, but “the essence of the compromise” was that it opened the way to a peaceful settlement of the conflict. ITAR-Tass reported that the Minister also said that the Iraqi crisis must not be allowed to be used as a “pretext” for delaying a Palestinian-Israeli peace settlement. “The sooner implementation of the Quartet’s plan begins, the sooner it will be possible to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and find the solution to the Iraqi problem,” Mr. Ivanov was quoted as saying. (DPA, Ha’aretz)

In a declaration issued at the conclusion of the 22nd Africa-France Summit in Paris, French President Jacques Chirac said participants had reaffirmed “the goal of creating a Palestinian State beside an Israeli State with guaranteed borders.” In addition, the Summit participants, which included France and 52 African countries, “called for application of the Road Map” prepared by the Quartet. (DPA)

In a joint article entitled “Two simultaneous crises in the Middle East” and published in Al-Hayat , British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and Norwegian Foreign Minister Jan Petersen said “the international community must take as much care to address the crisis in Israel and the Occupied Territories as the crisis that results from Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.” The two Ministers noted that, to achieve a lasting settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, “we need to get a political process back on track. We also need to tackle the economic plight of the Palestinians and avert a humanitarian catastrophe. And we need to build on, and accelerate, progress made on Palestinian reform.” Messrs. Straw and Petersen said they were “eagerly awaiting the adoption by the Quartet of a Road Map with clear time lines and benchmarks” to assist Israel and the PA in reaching a comprehensive settlement. “It is of great importance that the international community acts to help the parties to take the perhaps painful but necessary steps,” they noted, adding that “[a]ll e fforts must be exerted to prevent further escalation in the Middle East should a war in Iraq prove unavoidable.” An English version of the two Ministers’ opinion piece was published on the website of the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office. (Reuters, full text available at http://www.fco.gov.uk)

According to Ha’aretz , EU ambassadors had submitted, on 19 February, a letter of protest to the Deputy Director-General of the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s Western Europe Division, Victor Harel, which censured IDF actions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The letter also criticized the expropriation of Palestinian land for the construction of a separation fence between Israel and the West Bank, as well as the closure of universities and infringement of human rights in population centres in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Mr. Harel had rejected the European criticism and the letter’s harsh wording, the daily said, and in his response had attacked a declaration made by EU leaders earlier in the week, which linked the crisis in Iraq to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He had also questioned why the EU had praised Chairman Arafat for his intention to appoint a Prime Minister but had disregarded the measures taken by Israel, including the return of tax monies owed to the PA. (Ha’aretz)

22

Three Palestinians were killed in clashes during an IDF search for militants in Nablus. Sami Haloweh, 42, was outside his damaged furniture shop when he was shot in the abdomen, said Dr. Hussan Jouhari, director of Rafidya Hospital. An IDF spokeswoman, who declined to give her name, said soldiers had opened fire after they saw Mr. Haloweh holding an object in his hand. Other Israeli officers claimed the man had his face covered and approached soldiers carrying a “suspicious object.” Another Palestinian, 22-year-old Walid Al-Masri, was shot in the head after a group of Palestinians started throwing firebombs and rocks from the rooftops, an IDF spokeswoman said. Four more Palestinians were seriously injured, and one of them, a 14-year-old boy shot in the head, died from his wounds the day after. (AFP, AP, DPA, www.idf.il)

23

Israeli forces, in a column of tanks and APCs supported by helicopters, moved into Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip shortly after midnight, with soldiers sandbagging two sequestered houses and a school as bases and engaging in intensive firefight with armed Palestinians. Seven Palestinians were killed, among them a 15- and a 20-year-old, gunned down at the very beginning of the operation; a 27-year old policeman manning a security post; an 18-year-old, shot dead throwing stones at the Israeli troops; a 32-year-old policeman and a 31-year-old labourer, shot dead by tank machinegun fire in the town’s industrial zone, as they were fleeing the fighting. The director of Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City, Moawea Abu Hassanein, said the bodies of the last two had been mutilated by the Israeli soldiers, and noted that it was possible the men had been still alive when their throats were stabbed. IDF spokeswoman Capt. Sharon Feingold denied the charges, while another IDF officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the military had used a “ ;flechette” shell to kill the two. The IDF dynamited six houses belonging to killed or wanted militants, including Hamas members. One of the demolished houses belonged to the local Islamic Jihad leader whose son, also an Islamic Jihad member, had been killed trying to infiltrate Israel on 21 February. The man refused to come out and fought an hour-long gun battle from his house. His body was later found under the rubble. At least 28 Palestinians were wounded in the operation. Soldiers also carried out house-to-house searches, arresting several suspected militants, and bulldozers piled up sand and asphalt at the town entrance to block off traffic. Brig.-Gen. Zvika Fogel, an area commander, refused to say how long the military operation in Beit Hanoun would last, telling Israeli TV: “We will end it when we have achieved our objectives.” Defence Minister Mofaz said troops would stay in Beit Hanoun until they had eliminated the risk of Hamas firing rockets across the border. Nonetheless, hours later, Hamas members fired several rockets into southern Israel, one landing in a field and another near a strip mall in Sderot, causing some panic, but no damage or injuries, as it reportedly failed to explode. (AFP, AP, DPA, www.idf.il)

The IDF killed a 19-year-old Palestinian armed with an assault rifle and four grenades, as he approached the settlement and army base of “Netzarim,”; south of Gaza City, shortly before dawn. Later in the day, IDF fire on Khan Yunis killed a 16-year-old Palestinian boy and injured two others. (AFP, Reuters)

A Palestinian sniper shot dead an Israeli soldier at the “Tufah” outpost, guarding the “Neve Dekalim” settlement in the “Gush Katif” block, in the southern Gaza Strip. Responsibility for the attack was claimed in a statement by the Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades, the armed wing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). The next day IDF troops demolished a three-story building in Khan Yunis, from which the army claimed the sniper had fired the shot. (AFP, DPA)

Witnesses said the IDF had ended their five-day operation in the Nablus casbah, which had resulted in the killing of a total of six Palestinians. Dozens of houses and shops, as well as the Naser mosque, a historic landmark, had been damaged by troops carrying out house-to-house searches, with destruction particularly extensive at the Saha Gate deep inside the casbah. (AFP, AP, DPA)

Israel announced that its General Security Service had arrested Palestinian Council member Ibrahim Abu Hijda, head of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine in Ramallah. Israel Radio said Mr. Abu Hija had confessed to directing military-type attacks against Israeli targets. (DPA)

24

Israeli troops withdrew from Beit Hanoun, in the northern Gaza Strip, after destroying two road bridges and two access roads linking Beit Hanoun to Gaza City, in order to isolate the town and prevent it from being used by Hamas to launch rockets into Israeli territory, an IDF spokesman said. (AFP, AP, DPA, www.idf.il)

A 52-year-old Palestinian had died of a heart attack when Israeli soldiers destroyed his house in Nablus, after failing to find his son, a militant from the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, Palestinian officials said. The IDF arrested 33 Palestinians overnight. (AFP, www.idf.il)

Following its weekly meeting in Ramallah under Chairman Arafat, the Palestinian leadership said it was “necessary to stop launching rockets ... on zones within the Green Line because of ... savage acts of vengeance” by the Israeli army. “These rockets have no use for the resistance and have not resulted in any Israeli army or settler casualties,” a statement carried by WAFA added. The leadership urged all Palestinian factions to accept an Egyptian proposal for a one-year end to anti-Israeli attacks before new talks in Cairo. “Any negative position towards the Egyptian proposal or a refusal to participate in the dialogue could undermine our cause and the future of our struggle,” the statement said, noting that “It is not realistic and does not serve our national interest for any faction to say it is boycotting dialogue.” The leadership also reiterated it opposition to attacks against civilians. (AFP)

Late in the day, Israeli troops staged an incursion into the town of Rafah, in southern Gaza Strip, and destroyed two Palestinian houses, Palestinian security sources said. (AFP)

An IDF spokesman said that the Israeli navy had ended the naval blockade off the Gaza Strip coast, which had been imposed on 6 January 2003. He gave no reason for the move but said that Palestinian fishermen could resume their activities in the Mediterranean Sea. (AFP)

Israel released, without charge, a Palestinian cameraman employed by Reuters in the Gaza Strip, one day after the man had been detained by the IDF while filming in Beit Hanoun. Ahmed Al-Khatib, 34, was freed after being questioned on suspicion of involvement in “terrorist activities,” accusations that proved groundless. Reuters had sent a letter of protest to the IDF demanding Mr. Al-Khatib’s release and calling for journalists to be able to cover the Israeli-Palestinian conflict freely and without harassment. (AFP, Reuters)

25

Addressing the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Summit in Kuala Lumpur by live video link, Chairman Arafat warned that Israel would try to “exploit the situation” in case of a war on Iraq, and the Palestinian people would “pay a heavy price” if this war was waged. He said certain Israelis were guilty of “the confiscation of land, the transfer of nationals of the occupying power to that land and the building of settlements, which constitute war crimes with the intensity of crimes against humanity,” adding: “ The international community must bring an end to this with the implementation of international law in this regard.” (AFP, Reuters)

The immediate priorities of the NAM were to solve the Palestinian crisis and to see war was averted in Iraq, Malaysian Prime Minister and NAM Chairman Dr Mahathir Mohamad said in a press conference at the end of the six-day 13 th NAM Summit in Kuala Lumpur. In its Final Document, the Summit condemned Israeli actions and expressed support for the rights of the Palestinian people and the two-State solution. It also called for effective enforcement of the Fourth Geneva Convention and Additional Protocol 1 in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. A separate Statement on Palestine put forward by the NAM Committee on Palestine expressed support for the Quartet’s Road Map and the deployment in the Occupied Palestinian Territory of an international presence to provide protection for the Palestinian civilian population and to help the parties implement agreements reached. (AFP, Bernama, DPA; full text http://www.bernama.com/events/nam2003)

Israeli tanks fired on a public market in the Gaza Strip town of Khan Yunis, injuring four Palestinian women, one of whom hospital officials said was in critical condition. According to witnesses, Israeli tanks stationed at the nearby settlement of “Netzer Hazani” fired three rounds, one of which landed in the market. An IDF spokeswoman said the report was being checked. Further south in the Gaza Strip, Israeli army bulldozers destroyed at least six Palestinian-owned houses in the town of Rafah, a Palestinian public security spokesman reported, adding that an armoured force had entered the town and had begun razing the houses without having given prior notice to their residents. Soldiers called on them by megaphones to leave the houses without allowing them to take any of their furniture or belongings, residents said. (DPA, Reuters)

A Palestinian in his mid-twenties, who had been seriously wounded in Nablus on 16 February by Israeli forces who besieged a house in the city during a sweep for suspected militants, had died from his wounds. In the Gaza Strip, a former bodyguard to the Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and two other men were seriously injured in an unexplained explosion in the Bureij refugee camp. (AFP, DPA, IBA, Reuters)

“The IDF has advised taking control of several areas in the Gaza Strip in order to stop the firing of Qassam rockets at Israel and indeed that is what will happen,” Defence Minister Mofaz said while touring the “ Netzarim” settlement, south of Gaza City. (DPA)

A Palestinian teenage boy was killed and at least 10 other people were wounded, five of them children, as Israeli tanks fired on Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, Palestinian officials said. Ahmed Abu Olwan died after being hit in the chest by a machine-gun bullet and shrapnel, as tanks opened fire on the Tel el-Sultan district, close to the border with Egypt. According to the IDF, a military position protecting the nearby “Rafiah Yam” settlement had come under fire and soldiers had responded but had used no tank shells. (AFP, DPA, Reuters)

Seven Palestinians suspected of involvement in terrorist activities had been arrested in the West Bank overnight, Israeli public radio reported, adding that five of the men were Hamas activists arrested in the village of Tubas, near Nablus. The other two, detained west of Hebron, were wanted by Israel for questioning, the radio said. (Ha’aretz)

26

A future Palestinian Prime Minister must be given the authority to form a new Cabinet and formulate policy, Palestinian Council Speaker Ahmed Qurei said, noting that this should not be interpreted as a challenge to Chairman Arafat. Mr. Qurei further said that Israel had not granted approval for the Council to meet on the establishment of the Prime Minister’s position and the determination of its responsibilities, and he was now waiting for the Quartet to obtain the permission. Prime Minister Sharon’s adviser Ra’anan Gissin was quoted as saying: “No one is preventing them from meeting. The prevention is of those people who are involved in terror.” (AP)

Ha’aretz reported that Prime Minister Sharon was involved in quiet diplomacy aimed at replacing the current Road Map of the Quartet with a plan to be approved by Israel and the US, neutralizing the EU’s influence and its desire to use the Road Map to impose a settlement. Only after Mr Sharon had finalized his plan (worked on by an Israeli inter-agency team) and had reached an agreement with President Bush, would he bring it to the Israeli Government for discussion and ratification. This process would take a significant amount of time. On its part, Ha’aretz reported, the Quartet wanted to translate its seven-page document outlining the Road Map into a practical plan leading in stages to a ceasefire and a Palestinian State, under international supervision. According to the implementation plan elaborated at the Quartet’s meeting in London the previous week, the daily said, there would be a supervising mechanism, which would track the behaviour of the sides and determine whether conditions had ripened for progress. The mechanism would be headed by a US official who would report to the Quartet envoys and would include four monitoring groups: one for humanitarian affairs, another for PA reforms, a third for security, and a fourth for “special operations.” The latter would cover the most sensitive issues, including verification of a freeze on settlement construction and of the dismantling of illegal outposts. It would also document the activities of the Palestinian institutions that Israel had closed in East Jerusalem and would track incitement by both sides. According to the daily, Israel was not enthusiastic about the international inspection of its activities and regarded that as a dangerous “internationalization of the conflict.” In 2002, Israel itself had proposed a different model to the US, in which supervision would be only of the Palestinian side and would be domin ated by the US, with the inspectors’ roles well-defined and limited. Despite pressure by other Quartet members, Prime Minister Sharon’s Bureau Chief Dov Weisglass had heard from US National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice the previous week that Israel would not be surprised by the publication of the Road Map. A Israeli Government source was quoted as saying that the Road Map would “anyway wait” for the end of the Iraq war, since the US Administration remained focused on the Iraqi crisis and the Israeli-Palestinian crisis was far from the top of the US agenda. (Ha’aretz)

In a nationally televised speech at the American Enterprise Institute President Bush said, among other things, that “success in Iraq could also begin a new stage for Middle Eastern peace, and set in motion progress towards a truly democratic Palestinian State,” which “must be a reformed and peaceful State that abandons forever the use of terror.” For its part, “the new Government of Israel – as the terror threat is removed and security improves – will be expected to support the creation of a viable Palestinian State and to work as quickly as possible toward a final status agreement.” He also noted that “as progress is made toward peace, settlement activity in the occupied territories must end. And the Arab States will be expected to meet their responsibilities to oppose terrorism, to support the emergence of a peaceful and democratic Palestine, and state clearly they will live in peace with Israel.” The President said the US and other States were working on a Road Map for peace, “setting out the necessary conditions for progress toward the goal of two States, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security” and noted that it was the commitment of the US Administration, and his personal commitment, “to implement the Road Map and to reach that goal.” (AFP, Reuters, the Financial Times, www.whitehouse.gov)

In an advance text of a private speech he was to deliver to a Jewish community organization in London, Prime Minister Blair was quoted by Reuters as saying that “the shadow over relations between the Muslim world and the West” was the Middle East peace process, adding that there had to be “an end to the violence and suffering on both sides.” The internationally-sponsored Road Map should be published and embarked upon “ as soon as possible.” Mr. Blair acknowledged that the Road Map’s provisions did not “suit everyone in every respect,” noting, however, that he and President Bush believed this was “the only credible way to deliver both Israelis and Palestinians the peaceful future they need.” (Reuters)

A 56-year-old Palestinian man died at the Nablus hospital from the wounds he had sustained on 11 February in Qalqilya during clashes between stone-throwing youths and the Israeli army, Palestinian medical sources said. (AFP)

An article on the separation barrier published in the Ha’aretz and reportedly drawing on a World Bank report said the wall would completely cut off 14,000 Palestinians from PA areas and would leave another 140,000 Palestinians surrounded on three sides. The best agricultural land in the West Bank would be destroyed and Palestinian sources of income, along with health and education services, would be seriously affected. Israel did not plan to deport affected Palestinians but many would leave on their own accord. (Ha’aretz)

27

Responding to President Bush’s speech of the previous day, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Jonathan Peled said Israel saw “eye to eye with President Bush on how to progress in peace talks with the Palestinians ... and the need for democracy.” He noted that “one of the issues to be discussed is settlements, but we cannot discuss this until there is a cessation of terror.” Mr. Peled said Israel accepted Mr. Bush’s call on 24 June 2002 for a two-State solution but had problems with the Road Map’s call for concessions by both sides to end the conflict. “We believe that the peace process should be triggered before [war in] Iraq and the main obstacle to a Palestinian State is the Israeli occupation,” said PA Minister and chief negotiator Saeb Erakat, and demanded full implementation of the Road Map. (Reuters)

In his address to the Knesset, where he presented his new coalition Government for approval, Prime Minister Sharon said that an understanding had been reached with President Bush and senior US officials “regarding the necessary conditions to initiate a political process, as well as the need for a gradual outline to resolve this long-lasting and complex conflict between the Palestinians and [Israel].” “Before returning to a political track, the Palestinian Authority must stop terror and incitement, implement far-reaching reforms and replace its current leadership,” the Prime Minister noted, adding that: “The people of Israel seek peace, and I am convinced that there is a willingness to make painful concessions. Creating a Palestinian State under limited conditions in the framework of a political process is controversial among members of the coalition. I have clarified my position on this matter many times in the past. I have announced as well, and have included in the coalition guidelines and agreements, that before undertaking practical negotiations towards a political agreement – should it include the establishment of a Palestinian State – the topic will be discussed and decided upon by the Government.” He further said: “Any political settlement achieved in the future must ensure the historic, security and strategic interests of Israel, primarily Palestinian renunciation of the groundless demand for ‘the right of return’, the sole purpose of which is to allow the entrance of masses of Palestinians into Israel. Furthermore, the agreement should include security and buffer zones, and preserve the unity of the Capital of Israel – Jerusalem.” (DPA, Reuters; see full text and composition of new Israeli Government at http://www.pmo.gov.il)

Israeli troops had discovered a car bomb being assembled in the West Bank and had blown up the home of a suicide bomber in the Balata refugee camp near Nablus, the IDF said. A roadside bomb exploded next to an Israeli bus near Qalqilya but no casualties were reported. (Reuters)

During a raid into the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah, Israeli troops backed by tanks and bulldozers had destroyed three houses and arrested a Fatah activist, Palestinian security officials said. Fourteen wanted Palestinians had been arrested by Israeli security forces in towns across the West Bank. (AFP)

28

After meeting Chairman Arafat at his Ramallah headquarters, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Terje Rød-Larsen said Mr. Arafat had informed him that he would convene meetings of the PLO Central Council and the Palestinian (Legislative) Council the following week to approve the nomination of a Prime Minister. (AP, Reuters, XINHUA)

At a joint news conference after meetings with Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar in Madrid, Prime Minister Blair said Britain and Spain shared “a very common position on the absolute priority of restarting the peace process in the Middle East.” “We now have a very clear common agreement across the world that fairest solution are two States – an Israel confident of its security, a viable Palestinian State – living side by side,” Mr. Blair said, noting that “It is our desire that we re-begin that peace process and reach that objective as soon as we possibly can and both of us will play our full part in achieving that.” (Reuters)

Voice of Palestine reported that three Jenin residents had been injured lightly to moderately after having been shot by Jewish settlers. Israel Radio said the armed settlers had opened fire at the Palestinians near the settlement outpost “Havat Gilad” east of Qalqilya, adding that the Israeli police were investigating the incident. In another incident, an eight-year-old girl and two other Palestinian girls had been injured in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, when Israeli soldiers stationed at the nearby “Neveh Dekalim” settlement fired a tank shell at houses in the area. Sources at Nasser hospital in Khan Yunis said the eight-year-old had been shot in the head by the fragments of the tank shells fired at her family home. Israel Radio reported that IDF soldiers had arrested in the West Bank six Palestinians who were on a wanted list for planning to carry out armed attacks against Israel in the coming days. (XINHUA)

The Palestine Investment Fund (PIF), a holding company created to consolidate PA funds and assets, published detailed data on its operations and holdings in a report drawn up with the help of Standard & Poor’s ratings service. “This is a very important step forward, an element of broader efforts to bring order to the public finance system,” Finance Minister Salam Fayyad told Reuters in an interview, noting that “this is an area that was managed in a highly untransparent fashion and was the cause of many rumours that undermined the credibility of the public finance system..” The report included financial details of 79 commercial investments controlled or owned by the PA and valued at more than US$600 million. It also included assessments of whether the first 10 assets, including a cement company, telecommunications companies and a hotel and casino operation, met international standards of transparency and accountability. Mr. Fayyad said no money had gone to fund terrorist activities. (AP, Reuters)

A Palestinian security officer, seriously wounded earlier in the month during an Israeli raid into the northern Gaza Strip, died, bringing the death toll since the beginning of the intifada to 3,000 according to an AFP count, including 2,249 Palestinians, 695 Israelis, 43 foreigners and 13 Israeli Arabs. (AFP)


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